Gospel THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO MATTHEW Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." MATTHEW 25:31-46
Sermon (by the Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor)
“How, then, shall we live?”
This question is one that has stuck with me since I completed my Master of Divinity. While I spent those four years soaking in the academics and eagerly learning about such things as the social world of Ancient Israel, the life and journeys of Paul the Apostle, the history of the church and liturgy… the question, “how then shall we live,” comes to my mind more than any of the facts that I learned. This question touches deeply because it is not about what our world or our church holds up as important…knowledge, tradition, maintaining the status quo…but it is more involved and more poignant. It is about how we live in this world…it is about who we are and how we are every day…it is practical…it is, I think, what is at the heart of Jesus’ words in our Gospel this morning.
We have all likely heard Jesus speak about the sheep and goats and maybe his words make you wonder, “am I a sheep or am I a goat?” When the final judgement comes will I end up on the right or on the left? What guarantees my place on the right? Am I doing what Jesus wants? What Jesus suggests in response to these kinds of questions is that the deciding factor on whether we are a sheep or a goat is based on how we answer the question: “how then shall we live?”
Those on the right are blessed because they live a life of mercy, especially for the least in the world, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Their mercy is such a part of how they live that they don’t even notice it, as they say in response, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” Notice how they don’t even know that they are feeding the hungry and clothing the needy, mercy is a part of who they are…it is deeply engrained, integral to their very being. They are the sheep.
Those on the left are not blessed, they are cursed, because they live in an opposite way, they do not live a life of mercy, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” They too are living in a way that is so engrained that they do not notice what they are doing, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’” They don’t see, they are blind to what is going on around them and how they are acting in the world…and, by living in this way, they are punished eternally. They are the goats.
So in answer to the question, ‘how then shall we live,’ the blessed, the sheep, live a life that is innately focused on others, a life that looks outwards. While the cursed, the goats, live in the opposite way…they are unable to look beyond themselves, they are focussed inwards.
I think sometimes we are so preoccupied with what we think we need to do to be sheep that we end up inadvertently being goats. Too often instead of living the life that Jesus is calling us to embrace today, we focus on other things, the things we think Jesus wants from us…Christianity becomes about making sure we stick to the right liturgy, that we know our Bible stories, that we pray in the proper way, that we attend worship on Sunday. But Jesus is saying that to be Christian is more than this…it is about how we live every day of the week. He is calling us to shift our perspective, ensure that the church’s role in the world is focused on others, looks to the needs of those around us. Jesus is emphasizing that to truly live a life of faith is to be heart focused, not head focussed, not liturgy and tradition focussed…that we must be willing to give up what we value, what our institutional church values, and to step outside of this building and be people who live for those who have little to nothing in our world.
And this is the challenge. Jesus is calling us to be countercultural, to be people who go against the dominant messages and attitudes of our world…to go against the constant focus on ourselves and our benefit and instead to live for others. To give to others. It is a call to shift our mindsets and approach life in a way that is more difficult than it would be if we just focused on what our world, or even our church, calls us to focus on. There is no question that Christianity would be easier, if it were all about our brains, if it were only about what we knew and whether we followed the right liturgies or the right traditions….but do we want an easy faith or a world changing, earth shattering, life bringing faith that is based in love and mercy?
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, today we end the church year and next Sunday we begin a new year. When Advent begins we are given an opportunity to ask ourselves once more, “how then shall we live?” As we wait for the Christ child to be born, as we look to the manger…are we going to open our hearts to the frailty and the brokenness all around us? Are we going to take the steps to be a people of faith who change this world? Will we embrace Advent and the possibilities it offers us? Will we take upon ourself the call to be sheep, people of mercy? How then shall we live?